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Red Sox bullpen pieces are in place, now John Farrell needs to manage them

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Dave Dombrowski properly built up the bullpen depth, but John Farrell is the key to making it work

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Between Dave Dombrowski’s tendencies to push his chips into the table and the number of quality chips the Red Sox have, there was some expectation that they’d make a big move at the deadline. Instead, they stayed relatively quiet, not adding any major pieces to the roster. That’s not the same of them being completely silent, though, as they did bring Fernando Abad on board to help short up the depth in the bullpen.

That’s been a main task for Dombrowski of late, with Ziegler being brought in just a few weeks ago and transitioning guys like Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly there. Now, with Kimbrel officially back from his knee injury, the unit is essentially at full strength if you assume they won’t be able to count on Koji Uehara for the rest of the season. If this is the unit they’ll be heading into the stretch run with, it’s a really solid unit that is worthy of a contending roster. The thing is, John Farrell needs to manage it well for it to work.

We’ll start with Abad, since he’s the newest member of the relief corps. The good thing about the former Twin is that he fill a very specific role as a LOOGY that should be tough to mess up. He’s not the most talented arm in the world — which, yeah, he only cost Pat Light — but he has been increasingly successful against left-handed hitters. This year, they are hitting just .163/.192/.265 off the southpaw with a 19 percent strikeout rate and a 4 percent walk rate. For a team that has been lacking a true shutdown LOOGY, that kind of production would be more than welcome.

Texas Rangers v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Farrell needs to limit him to exclusively those matchups, though, or at least something close to that. Abad cost such a small price, at least relative to the rest of the market this summer, because he shouldn’t be facing right-handed hitters on anything close to a regular basis. He’s been able to limit too much hard contact from right-handed opponents, allowing a .257/.360/.351 line. However, the peripherals don’t look at promising, particularly his 14 percent walk rate. The lack of power is a new thing relative to the rest of his career, too. So, managing this role should be pretty straight forward, but we’ve seen Tommy Layne face too high of a percentage of right-handed bats to know better.

The good news for Farrell is that he has the other pieces to make it work for Abad as a straight-up LOOGY. The key to utilizing one of your relievers like that is to have the shutdown righty to pair him with. Boston has plenty of those, with Barnes the most likely to step up into that mid-inning role. The former first round pick has had something of an up-and-down season for the Red Sox, but his success against right handers has been undeniable. With the caveat of small samples, Barnes has been pretty damn close to a ROOGY all year. To wit, he’s allowed a .219/.288/.325 lines against righties this year, which is even more impressive when you consider the righties in the AL East. The peripherals mostly back up that kind of performance, too, with a 24 percent strikeout rate and an 8 percent walk rate. This kind of bullpen management can get annoying to watch -- just check out a Giants game one of these days — but playing matchups and taking advantage of skillsets like Abad’s and Barnes’ goes a long way.

Beyond the handedness matchup, Farrell has a unique setup at the back end to play around with. Craig Kimbrel is going to be stuck in the closer role, whether we like it or not. It’d be great if he could come in for some big situations in the seventh and eighth, but it’s not going to happen. On the other hand, Junichi Tazawa is still capable of stepping up in big spots, despite some inconsistencies. Look no further than his big strikeout against Nelson Cruz on Monday night. The thing is, he performs much better with empty bases, meaning Farrell needs to start innings with Tazawa (or possibly bring him in after Abad in some situations) as much as possible. From there, he has Brad Ziegler. On the one hand, the former Diamondback fits in perfectly as a fireman. You’d love to see a bit more strikeout stuff in that role, but his ability to induce ground balls and just generally limit hard contact makes him a perfect candidate to put out mid-inning fires with runners on base.

Finally, you have Robbie Ross and Clay Buchholz as multi-inning arms. Using Barnes in this role would be ideal, too, and I’m sure he will be utilized. The addition of Abad makes it a bit harder, though. I’ve talked a lot about Ross this year, and while he’s not the most exciting arm in the league, he can cover two innings at a time when the starter doesn’t go as deep as one may like. Additionally, he can serve as sort of a backup LOOGY if necessary, though his splits don’t support that like Abad’s. Buchholz is essentially the long man right now, which is nice, but also not necessarily the best use of his talents. On the one hand, having him cover starters who can’t go deep into games is huge for the rest of this bullpen. On the other hand, if he continues to look like he did against the Angels on Sunday, he can be used in Barnes’ role as well.

Dombrowski didn’t make the big splash some were expecting, but he spent the month fortifying the pitching depth. Between Ziegler, Abad and some players returning from injury, the relief corps is mostly set. It’s not the best unit in the world, but it’s one that has enough talent to keep the team in the playoff race. Now, it’s just up to John Farrell to properly utilize it.